Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Family Hike #5: Great Island, Wellfleet, Massachusetts

Hike #21: Great Island
Elevation: Not much
Date: July 3, 2015
Location: Wellfleet, Cape Cod, MA
Distance: 6.7 miles
Time: 3:55 (35:04/mile)
When I think of a vacation on Cape Cod, I think of relaxing in a beach chair and playing in the water. But with a week at the Cape, we wanted to enjoy such times and also mix things up a bit. A few months ago, a friend found a posting about an island most of the way down the Cape that was open to hiking, and it sounded fun.
Great Island, Wellfleet, Massachusetts:
OK, it's not actually an island. But, it is a great day hike on Cape Cod!
Great Island in Wellfleet turned out to possess an interesting history. It was an island as late as 1831, before the constant changes in currents and sand eventually connected it to Wellfleet through a new sandbar that became more prominent over the decades. Prior to that point, it already provided wood and land for houses and livestock, a tavern for sailors from whaling ships, and a home for the Punonakanits tribe, who had very good relations with the settlers until a smallpox epidemic led to their extinction. Woods have been reclaiming Great Island in the nearly two hundred years since, with planted pine trees helping to maintain the soil and reduce erosion. Now, a surprising variety of habitats exist across this fairly small peninsula, and it seemed to offer a good change of pace late in the vacation.

We headed out on a sunny morning from our mid-Cape starting point, and arrived in about an hour. Setting out with plenty of water, and with a secondary goal of breaking in new hiking shoes for the girls, we quickly found it to be more challenging than expected. We discovered the terrain to have surprising elevation changes, and sandy stretches made for tough traction, especially uphill. The heat and humidity added to the challenge, and poorly marked sections of trail led to occasional bushwhacking and exploratory scouting missions.
Pairing off and bonding during the search for the site of the tavern that served sailors, now lost to time and history.
Learning about the history of Great Island, Cape Cod
The hike’s purpose wasn’t solely to enjoy the variety of outdoor offerings on the Cape; it also served as a training hike for the girls. We have a three-day hike over Labor Day in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, covering about fifteen miles, and perhaps summiting three 4,000-footers. This will be, by far, the biggest challenge the girls have faced. Getting in a hike that wound up a little under seven miles created a new high water mark for the girls. Doing so in the open heat and sometimes through sand, with boots and packs, provided a good proving ground.  They took responsibility for their hydration and food. They learned that hiking can involve different techniques (such as to reduce the buckets of sand accumulating in one daughter’s boots). They showed some interest in history. They also pushed their pace compared to past hikes. They also bonded instead of complaining about heat or exertion.
See, girls? Hiking can be fun!
The girls’ willingness to make the most of the hike allowed for some great moments: checking out a bluff overlooking the picturesque bay below; pairing off and changing partners periodically, to discuss important topics such as upcoming birthday plans, summer camps, and what to eat for dinner; eating lunch in the sand as we gazed across Cape Cod Bay to the Provincetown Monument rising high above the end of the Cape; and finding a couple of monuments to an ancestor of the pilgrim’s Governor Bradford, who lived on this land at one point before donating it, and to a reinterred Native American woman, honoring the local tribe who helped the pilgrims gain a foothold in their New World.
These sorts of moments show that the girls are becoming stronger, and each new accomplishment gives them a new frame of reference. This allows “hard” hikes of a couple of miles to become no big deal, and allows “awful” hikes of foolhardy distances such as seven miles to become tiring but achievable. More importantly, these are transferable lessons: hard work leads to impressive accomplishments; breaking huge, intimidating efforts into little, easy parts makes daunting efforts manageable; what seemed impossible suddenly isn’t; self-sufficiency breeds confidence; attitudes can be chosen; and it’s important to enjoy the journey as well as the success.
Finish strong, girls!
Dessert before dinner: well-earned apres-hike ice cream!
We’ll definitely remember this vacation for the ladderball and bocce games on the beach, the seaweed fights in the ocean, and drying off in our beach chairs as we munched on watermelon. But we’ll also remember walking along the marsh, dunes, scrub pines, and bluffs. We’ll remember eating lunch with the waves of Cape Cod Bay lapping at our feet. I'll remember walking happily alongside one of my kids while watching Sara and the other in conversation ahead of us, before switching off, loving how our family continues to develop. And we’ll remember enjoying well-earned clam chowder and pub food for dinner afterwards as we took in some live music at an oceanfront restaurant. Those experiences add to the family memories. They also are more stepping stones as the girls continue to move towards adulthood.
See you on the trail,
Jay Bell, AKA Rock Hopper

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